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Increase concerns fixed-income consumers, others


January 31, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

El Centro resident Charlotte Kerr is retired; she has been for a number of years.

She lives on a fixed income and has her finances carefully budgeted to assure she can afford to pay her utility bills and all the other expenses she has.

Now Kerr, who declined to give her age but says she has lived in the Imperial Valley since 1953, is going to have to take a new look at her finances to figure in an 8-percent increase in her power bill that goes into effect in February.

On Tuesday, Kerr was one of about 20 people who attended an Imperial Irrigation District workshop regarding the rise in power bills.


Kerr said she accepts the increase; she is more concerned about the increase in her gas bill, which she said jumped from $9 to $40 in a month.

She said of the power issue, "I'm not real happy about it. However, we are a lot better off than people in other places."

That sentiment was shared by most attending the workshop, all of whom expressed concern about a bill increase but said they are happy they do not live in other parts of the state where power bills are going up as much as 300 percent.

In February, IID power customers can expect to see an 8 percent increase in their bills brought about by IID increasing the energy cost adjustment portion of the bill.

The energy cost adjustment is that portion of the bill IID has the authority to increase or reduce based on the cost of producing energy.

IID officials have said that cost is on the rise as natural gas, the fuel used for the operation of IID's power plants, faces violent price fluctuations.

Last summer IID paid less than $3 per million BTU for natural gas. This year the price has risen as high as $52 per million BTU.

In an effort to head off tremendous increases, IID staffers have locked in a natural gas price for the summer of $7.90 per million BTU. While that is nearly three times what IID paid last summer, officials think it is much less than IID would have to pay without taking such an action.

IID staffers have calculated the bill increases people can expect this summer.

For a household using 1,000 kilowatts of power per month, the monthly power bill would be $99.60, up from last summer's bill of $92.30.

For a household that uses 2,000 kilowatts per month, the cost would be $195.60, up from last summer's of $181.

IID power department Manager John Steffen has said most households during the summer use at least 2,000 kilowatts.

During the winter power use in an average household is lower. If a power customer had bills of $60 per month in the winter, the customer could see that increase to $65.

IID Director Bruce Kuhn said by locking in a price for natural gas the district is attempting to control prices. He said there is a chance that the price of natural gas could fall below $7.90 and that would mean the district would be paying more than the market price for natural gas.

El Centro resident Gil Perez asked the board if that does happen, could IID purchase natural gas at the reduced price or is it stuck with the $7.90 price. Staffers said IID is committed to that price.

Imperial resident Karl Counce told the board he can live with the increase.

"Maybe if I was on a fixed income it might bother me," he said.

He added, "I'm glad the adjustment was in dollars and not hundreds."

El Centro resident Robert Garcia said he thinks people are concerned about the increase.

"It's something that a lot of people question because they do not want to see their power bills go up," he said.

He added of the information provided at the workshop, "It's too complicated. I'm going to have to do some more research."

Kerr said she has a contract with IID in which she pays an average monthly charge that remains fixed throughout the year. She asked IID staffers how her bill would be affected.

Officials said those who have such contracts IID will face increases. However, it has not yet been determined whether the increase will be paid monthly or in a lump sum at the end of the year.

IID staffers said people would be notified of how their bills will be affected by the energy cost adjustment.

District officials said they have taken other steps to control prices, including implementing an energy exchange agreement in which IID will provide power to agencies in need during the winter and will receive additional energy during the summer when the district's need reaches its peak.

The more low-cost energy IID can obtain, the less it has to use its own power plants and that can help control costs.

IID directors asked that staff have additional workshops on the power issue and directed that more information be provided to the public on the public benefits program, which can help IID customers with their energy bills.

As part of that program, people at certain income levels can qualify for 20 to 25 percent reductions in their bills.

In addition, there are rebate programs to help cover the cost of having air conditioners serviced and to buy energy efficient refrigerators.

The district has $5 million available through the public benefits program. That funding, mandated by the state, must be spent on programs that help alleviate power bills.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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